Annual surveys of fertilizer practice have been conducted since 1942. Since 1985, nitrogen application rates to grass have progressively declined and phosphorus application has been reduced since the mid 1970s. Increasing environmental issues and the present interest in organic farming and low input systems indicate that these trends will continue. Present overall fertilizer use for grazing on dairy farms is about 170 kg N, 10 kg P and 20 kg К per ha. Higher rates are used for intensive silage production, 200 kg N, 15 kg P and 50 kg К per ha. In contrast, recommended applications are 340 kg N, 18 kg P and 25 kg К per ha for grazing and 380 kg N, 40 kg P and 260 kg К per ha for intensive silage. Herbage yield is controlled by the amount and timing of nitrogen fertilizer applications. The major mineral content depends on herbage maturity within the growth cycle; both phosphorus and potassium contents fall with declining crude protein concentrations.
Nitrogen fertilizer generally increases both magnesium and sodium concentration whilst potassium application decreases both. The overall effect of combined applications is to minimize changes. In the critical spring and autumn periods, herbage dry-matter intakes may be as important as magnesium content and availability when assessing the risk of hypomagnesaemia in the grazing cow.
Fertilizers, including phosphorus, even in the long term, have little effect on the calcium and phosphorus contents of herbage. Nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations are significantly ocrrelated in grazed herbage, silage and hay. If environmental or economic policies were to result in a reduction in the crude protein content of grazed herbage from ca. 250 to ca. 200 g/kg dry matter, the phosphorus intake of a cow giving 30 kg milk per day would fall by 0·5 g/kg dry-matter intake. This, together with any desirable additional magnesium, should preferably be given as an oral mineral supplement rather than by attempting to modify the mineral content of herbage.